By Scott Farnsworth
The Kenosha Educators Politically Active and Concerned (KEPAC) Committee met this Wednesday and voted to approve the endorsement of incumbent KUSD School Board member Rebecca Stevens and returning candidate Tony Garcia for the School Board seats up for election Tuesday, April 5th. These endorsements followed the recommendation made by the KEPAC Executive Committee (Colleen Robson, chair; Betsy Liddicoat, and Anne Knapp) who, along with KEA Board of Directors ESP Representative Henry Perez, local AFL-CIO President Zach Stoner, KEA-Retired President Barry Thomas, and KEA Interim Executive Director Scott Farnsworth, interviewed three of the four candidates (Rebecca Stevens, Tony Garcia, and Lance Gordon) Monday evening. Todd Jacobs did not respond to KEPAC’s questionnaire or invitation to be interviewed.
All three candidates had strong interviews. The KEPAC Executive Committee would like to be sure to thank them for their interest in pursuing the endorsement of the organization which represents those in the classrooms of our schools, as well as their willingness to run for these important positions in these very challenging times for public education.
Rebecca is the longest serving member on the Kenosha School Board, completing her third, three-year term. It is not an exaggeration to say that, in her time on the board, she has dealt with the most controversial decisions and difficult situations the School Board has ever had to face: health care carrier decisions, both now and on multiple previous occasions; significant budget and staff cuts; and the continuously changing and uncertain conditions of not only state financing and programming, but the ever shifting demands of education reform – both the well-grounded and the ill-conceived. It is difficult to overestimate the value of this depth of experience. It explains why her candidacy has been greeted with enthusiasm and gratitude by her supporters.
Rebecca has been open and willing to listen to the concerns of KEA members. Over the past five years, she has had a solid grasp on the stress and challenges that have been placed on students and educators by the losses suffered. She recognizes the new threat to funding posed by the ever increasing expansion of the voucher program and its false promise to provide disadvantaged students with improved opportunities. A strong voice on the board for our union and its involvement in the District, she sees the KEA as a key factor to its success, both past and going forward. “I see the KEA as the bridge to help facilitate and represent the needs of the teachers, substitutes and ESPs. The KEA should have the ability to communicate electronically with their members, as well as visit schools to meet with members. They should have the opportunity to meet with the Superintendent and her staff to share the concerns of its members.”
Rebecca Stevens has earned our support though her years of dedicated service.
Tony was a KEPAC endorsed candidate in last year’s school board race and nearly pulled out a rare first-campaign victory. We saw him as an informed and important voice for the community then, and he has, if anything, become a more informed and consistent voice this year. He recognizes the importance of engaging the community as a whole in the education of its children – and especially recognizes that there remains a need to rebuild the trust and engagement of Kenosha’s growing Hispanic community – a goal in which we share the belief that he can play a pivotal role.
In addition, Tony is an educator. He has experience in the classroom and knows the challenges firsthand. As with the knowledge Rebecca Stevens has gained from nine years on the board, it is difficult to overestimate the value of that kind of direct experience in understanding education issues. Outside of Mary Snyder, Tony would have a greater appreciation of how schools work day-to-day than anyone else on the board – and a more current understanding. He takes an academic’s view in exploring the way in which various systems go about the business of educating today’s students. It is probably for that reason that he sees a more active role as part of a school board member’s responsibilities.
Tony understands the harsh realities created by the budget cuts of 2011, as well as the new threat to stable funding of public education in the expansion of the voucher program. He is aware and critical of the important fact that vouchers eliminate any accountability to the taxpayers who provide the funds. “Voucher schools do not improve student achievement according to a number of studies – students offered vouchers do not perform better in reading and math than do students in public schools.”
Finally, he includes the KEA in his “community” effort to improve education: “The KEA should be a major and key player in the district.” His election would bring many unique skills and benefits to the School Board.
Of Lance Gordon, it can be said that he will, no doubt, one day make a very good candidate for school board – or any other position he should seek. Like his youthful predecessor, Kyle Flood, he certainly has an excellent grasp of the challenges faced by and the views held by students, which is a perspective that is important and from which the board has benefited the past three years. As someone once said, “If youth is a weakness, it is one that time can be counted upon to correct.” We have little doubt that, with more time and study, Mr. Gordon will gain a level of understanding on the issues surrounding public education that will allow him to take informed positions. It was felt that time is yet to come.
Of the fourth candidate, Todd Jacobs, KEPAC received no response to either its questionnaire or its invitation to an interview. Based on some of the positions expressed by Mr. Jacobs at other candidate forums, his lack of response could well be because his views are unsympathetic to our concerns and interests and, thus, has no interest in the endorsement of educators. Certainly, he references us less frequently than taxpayers in his comments. He, as other candidates before him, hides behind the fact that Act 10 “is the law,” without challenging what it has done to public education. On vouchers, he likewise quotes that “it is state law,” and does not acknowledge any opposition to them, nor the negative impact they have already had, and will increasingly have, on public school financing.
For these reasons, then, KEAPC endorses Rebecca Stevens and Tony Garcia.
KEPAC also voted to accept the recommended endorsements of the Central Labor Council in local elections – the only exception being that equal support was expressed for Kyle Flood in his aldermanic race in the Third District. Kyle has been a dedicated member of the School Board these past three years, was always well-informed and/or willing to listen and learn. We are certain he would make an excellent alderman and a solid friend of Labor. We will include a list of these endorsements in the near future.
Finally, KEPAC authorized contributions to the endorsed School Board candidates, as well as to the campaign of Joanne Kloppenburg for the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
As was pointed out last week, those with Kenosha Kids Great Schools Fund accounts are encouraged to contact the KEA with requests for withdrawals to make independent contributions to these and other local, state and nationally endorsed candidates.
(This is a Wisconsin State Statute 11.29 communication with KEA members; Federal Statute CFR 100(b)(4))